Make it three wins over ranked opponents in four games for the Florida baseball team, which may just be finding a turning point in its season.
The hitting struggles seem to be dissipating. The pitching, save for a bullpen meltdown Sunday, has been as sharp as expected. And most importantly, the Gators are collecting marquee wins by the handful of late.
After taking two out of three games from LSU (now ranked No. 6 nationally) last weekend, the No. 9 Gators added a 4-1 win over No. 12 Florida State on Tuesday night in Jacksonville.
That slow-starting offense got an immediate boost with a 4-run first inning, punctuated by catcher Mike Rivera’s 3-run home run, providing all the run support Florida (17-9) would need.
Meanwhile, freshman right-hander Garrett Milchin held the Seminoles (18-8) to 2 hits and 3 walks over 4 1/3 innings in his first career start. He improved to 1-1 with the win.
— Gators Baseball (@GatorsBB) March 29, 2017
Florida State scored its only run in the 6th inning to end a scoreless streak of 36 innings by Florida pitchers against the Seminoles.
Michael Byrne later pitched 3 2/3 scoreless inning of relief to collect his second save of the season. He allowed just one baserunner, struck out 4 and retired the first nine batters he faced.
The Gators are now 2-0 against instate rival Florida State this season with one more meeting to come. It’s been a very lopsided series thus far, though, including that gaudy scoreless streak dating back to last season.
“Some things you just can’t explain. Florida State’s got a very good team. They’re very offensive, I think we’ve just pitched really well. I don’t think there’s really one thing I could put my finger on to explain it,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “We got a great start from Garrett tonight. His sinker was really good. He knows who he is. He pitches at 88-92 and doesn’t try to overthrow. He’s got a good breaking ball and changeup. And Michael Byrne was good. We asked him to do some different things on the mound tonight. He pitched differently, probably had been relying on his slider too much. We need to flip the switch there, the scouting report. I think he did a really good job tonight. I think the pitching in general was just outstanding.”
Just a week ago, Florida was at perhaps the nadir of its season, having been swept in a three-game series at Auburn and then needing extra innings to squeak past Stetson.
Now, the Gators are rolling. For the moment at least.
Their team batting average of .240 ranks tied for 246th nationally and still has a ways to go if Florida is going to make any extended postseason run. Their record isn’t quite what many would have expected at this point either, but it’s moving in the right direction.
There’s a lot of season left for the Gators to climb back into the SEC race and position themselves for a push toward the College World Series, and if the last handful of games is any indication, they may just be rounding into form.
If they can keep it going, that is.
Up next is a three-game series at Missouri (21-4) this weekend. The Tigers have lost three out of four games since a 21-1 start.
As for the Gators, for all their hiccups, they’re still a top-10 team at this point, and one that could be ready to climb higher still up those national polls.